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TAMPA — Down by four heading into the final quarter of one of the county’s most storied rivalry games — one that Jesuit has dominated for a decade — Tigers coach James Harrell admitted he was a little nervous.
“I was saying, ‘Oh no, not me,’ ” Harrell said, referring to the 10-game winning streak Jesuit held entering Thursday night’s game against Tampa Catholic.
But Jesuit caught a few breaks, capitalized with two big special teams plays and scored 21 unanswered points to beat the Crusaders 28-18, push the winning streak to 11 and cap off a perfect regular season for the Tigers (10-0).
Both of Jesuit’s touchdowns in the fourth quarter were the result of high snaps over Crusaders punter Mike Paleveda’s head. The first, just less than two minutes into the final quarter, set up a 12-yard scoring run by Travis Johnson on the ensuing play to give Jesuit a 21-18 lead — not even a full quarter after the Tigers had trailed 18-7 in the third.
The second, on Tampa Catholic’s next drive, was recovered by Jesuit linebacker Parker Clonts and returned 19 yards to push the lead to 10 with 7:26 left.
“We blew it. Plain and simple, we blew it,” Crusaders coach Bob Henriquez said. “I can’t fault the effort. I think this is one year that Jesuit can go home and know that they didn’t beat us; we found a way to beat ourselves.”
Both teams will move on to the playoffs next week, and each squad took something valuable from Thursday night’s game. For the Tigers, it was a challenging contest that required them to overcome a little adversity along the way.
The Crusaders (5-5), meanwhile, will look to get back to the way they played Thursday night before collapsing in the final quarter.
“If we play that kind of football in the playoffs the way we did for three quarters, there’s not a team in our classification that can beat us,” Henriquez said. “We’ve got to build on that next week. We beat ourselves tonight, and Jesuit came out with a victory.”
“Losing is something you don’t want to do, but sometimes you need to get challenged. And tonight we were challenged by Tampa Catholic,” Harrell said. “They did a great job of preparing for us, came out and gave us a great game. But in the end, we prevailed.”